Master Mixologist: James Gelmi of JOCKEY HOLLOW BAR & KITCHEN in Morristown, NJ
James Gelmi is the Bar Director for Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in downtown Morristown, NJ.
James grew up in Union, NJ for his entire childhood and adolescence. He attended Union public schools, graduated Union High School in 2005, and then graduated in 2010 from Ramapo College in New Jersey with a degree in Psychology. James currently lives in Morristown and he has a girlfriend. He has no children of his own, but he is a very proud son and uncle.
James doesn't know if he was necessarily inspired to become a " mixologist." He began working in restaurants at the age of 20 to make money while going to school. He quickly moved up from a banquet server to a bartender. After James graduated, he always believed he would be going back to grad school, but instead he continued to work in restaurants.
James' career progressed from a mid level Italian eatery to the Bernards Inn. There he learned more about food and wine. He soon realized that he had a passion for serving people and making them happy. In October of 2014, James started at Jockey Hollow where Chris James impressed him greatly with the amount of information and passion he had about cocktails and mixology.
James spent every opportunity he could reading and getting to Jockey Hollow early to learn. He accumulated all of his knowledge on service, food, beverage, and hospitality by picking up information over time. Initially, it was not his intention to become the Bar Director at Jockey, so he now thinks that bartending was a "calling" of sorts as it happened organically.
On a side note, James personally does not like the term "Mixologist." There is an attachment of pretention to it. Although it is trendy, mixology is only one part of tending to the bar. He feels that being a hard worker, looking out for guests, knowing about food and wine, and just being attentive and empathetic is important to his position.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing James Gelmi about his career and Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen.
When did you first become interested in the cocktail culture?
I have been interested in food and beverage since I can remember. My family would center bonding around food. It started at the dinner table, but we often went out to eat at different restaurants across NJ. I believe my true interest in the "cocktail culture" was inspired by Mixologist Christopher James in October of 2014. He was the original Head Bartender at Jockey Hollow and he opened my eyes to so many new spirits, techniques, and ideas.
What innovations in mixology and bartending do you find fascinating?
It would be easy for me to tell you the many innovations I find fascinating in the world of mixology as they pertain to new products, liquors, or ingredients. There is no shortage of amazing spirits available and made all over the world. The baseline level of education and creativity that is required to be considered a successful bar program has risen in the short time I've been in the restaurant business. Quality and consistency are prerequisites. For example, we currently dedicate hours and hours each week to our fresh juice, craft syrups, tinctures, infusions, and hand cut ice. What I truly find innovative is the way bartenders and bar programs are able to use their platform and outreach to promote positive change socially in their community or even on a macro level. Whether it's switching from plastic to paper products, raising funds for a local charity/awareness group, addressing mental health issues for hospitality workers, or shifting to a more sustainable program. While I take food, beverage, and service very seriously; they are not life and death matters. It is the opportunity to use your platform for the greater good that I find most innovative.
How do restaurant and bar guests encourage your creativity?
"The customer is always right." I'm joking, they are not, but they can tell you a lot about what you should and shouldn't be doing. Guest feedback is something I've always taken seriously. In listening and observing the guests at the bar over the years I've picked up on trends, both positive and negative. For example, people do not want what is perceived to be a "sweet' cocktail. So when we are "labbing" a recipe, we that into account. They encourage a more thoughtful and empathic understanding of what we are trying to create.
What are your preferred "classic cocktails" and why?
I love simple. Simple, simple, simple. Do more with less. That's what I say. That's not to say I don't love an overcomplicated drink with too many ingredients, but simple, quality, easily replicable cocktails live forever.
The Negroni is an all time favorite. Great before or after a meal. Bitter. Sweet. Spirited. And an awesome framework to substitute in new ingredients.
The Martini another favorite and widely popular since the 1950's. I am not hard in my rules that they need to be either shaken or stirred. And different ratios of spirit to vermouth work for different tastes or occasions. Though I do prefer a gin base with a 7 to 1 ratio and a lemon peel. Perhaps, a 50-50, named after the ratio, if I will be consuming more than one.
The Daiquiri is my preferred classic when imbibing in a citrus driven cocktail. Rum base. Fresh lime. And we like to make ours with a rich demerara sugar syrup. Tart and refreshing. An excellent recipe to build upon.
What are some of your favorite infusions and how you like to use them in drinks?
Love infusing seasonal herbs or fruits. Most recently working with sumac to infuse tequila. We'll see how that comes out. Prior to that we were doing a lot with fats, using a technique called fat washing where we combine fats and spirits then freeze and strain them. You are left with a spirit that has a subtle flavor of whatever fat you used and an awesome silky texture. For example, we did a riff on a Negroni by infusing Olive oil into a london dry gin. To this we added a lemon grappa, a quinine forward aromatized wine, and a black peppercorn tincture.
Tell us about a few of your signature cocktails and why they are distinctive.
"Game of Thrones" is a simple smoked old fashioned we make with an overproof rye whiskey, orange bitters, aromatic bitters, demerara syrup, lemon oil, and orange oil. We take a torch and burn a piece of cedar in front of you at the bar to smoke the glass. Add one of our large hand cut ice cubes and pour the old fashioned over. It's our most popular cocktail.
"Fat Guy in a Little Coat" I fat washed Bourbon with coconut oil. Sounds crazy but it's good. Add a little lemon and sugar. Rinse the glass with absinthe and swizzle over crushed ice. The flavors work. Garnish with a mint sprig for a fresh aroma.
"My Shroomy Amour" This is my weirdest signature ever, but I loved it.
Inspired by mushroom soup, I infused maitake mushroom into a fino sherry. I used this in a 50-50 style with dry gin and added a few dashes of a housemade "soy-thyme tincture." Very savory and unique.
Give us your perfect pairing for a cocktail and a culinary selection.
A nice 50-50 martini with citrus oil expressed on top (grapefruit for change from lemon) and oysters on a half shell. The better the dry vermouth, the more it works with the salinity of the oyster.
A bold, spirited, Manhattan or Sazerac with a big cut of beef or a pork chop.
Tell us a little about your company or restaurant.
Jockey Hollow opened in October 2014 when I came aboard. It has 4 unique dining spaces and 5 when the patio opens from May to Sept. We have an Oyster bar, a Cocktail Lounge, a Rathskeller, and a fine Dining Room. There is something for everyone in this renovated historic mansion. We do live music on Friday evenings. We are farm to table with tenured professionals curating your dining experience, award winning bar scene, and award winning wine list. We also have an award winning burger. There is something here for everyone.
Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen is located at 110 South Street Morristown, NJ 07960. For more information, menus and to make a reservation, visit https://www.jockeyhollowbarandkitchen.com/ or call 973.644.3180.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of James Gelmi and Jockey Hollow